Hippocrates, the father of western medicine said, “Walking is the best medicine”. It could be the easiest way to help cure the mental health issues millions of teenagers are experiencing right now.
Government lockdowns prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic has caused untold damage to the mental health of children and the psychological development of young adults.
A study published by the Boston School of Public Health revealed that the number of people in the US almost tripled in the first few months of lockdowns.
Two years on and the rates of depression are even worse. Lead author of the study, Catherine Ettman said: “The sustained and increasing prevalence of elevated depressive symptoms suggests that the burden of the pandemic on mental health has been ongoing—and that it has been unequal.”
Research published by the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that adolescents aged between 11-14 said that supportive relationships with family and friends, together with physical exercise and a good night’s sleep helped to alleviate their symptoms.
However, low-income families have been the worst hit with mental health issues. The economic strains caused by the lockdowns may have caused lasting damage.
The Covid-19 lockdowns have been heavily criticised in some quarters. Dr Jay Bhattacharya out of Stanford University Medical School denounced the decision to close schools and businesses as “the biggest public health mistake we’ve ever made.”
Professor Cyrille Cohen, a member of the Israeli government’s advisory committee during the pandemic said the biggest mistake they made was closing schools.
Psychological development in Teenagers
Early adolescence is a critical stage of psychological development. Between the ages of 11 and 16, children start developing physical, emotional and social changes.
It is also during this period that teenagers are confronted with exams. In addition to the stress of revision, the assessment and judgement prompted by school examinations piles on more psychological pressure.
When children are put under these kinds of mental pressure, the psychological damage can have a lasting impact. Early signs of mental health in teenagers include acting out, aggressive behaviour, restlessness and lack of motivation. In the most severe cases, suicidal tendencies and self-harm surface.
Parents that notice a change in their child’s behaviour should look to modify their lifestyle. Consider whether your children are receiving enough emotional support, socialising with friends and engaging in healthy behaviours such as exercise, sports activities, good sleep and healthy eating habits.
Whilst it can sometimes be difficult to encourage teenagers to engage with family events – especially if they are depressed – addressing mental health issues head-on will have positive long-term effects.
Research shows that teenage depression interrupts psychological development which has an impact on adulthood. A paper published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology explains how teenagers that suffer episodes of depression are predisposed to develop drug and alcohol addictions and anxiety disorders.
In addition, the study found adults who experienced depression as adolescents encountered problems with relationships, physical wellbeing, job performance and their quality of life.
Mental Health Solutions
Mental healthcare specialists have called for parents to focus on supporting young adults in a variety of ways. Fiona C. Baker, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Sciences at SRI International, suggests “walking at least 10 minutes a day, and strengthening family relationships, really matters during times of stress.”
Other family activities are also encouraged. Planning day trips as a family help to strengthen emotional bonds and playing board games at home helps to relieve stress and tension.
Sleep has also been found to have positive effects on mental health. Regular exercise is the best way to develop healthy sleeping habits. However, depressed teenagers do not have the motivation to engage in exercise.
Walking could provide a solution. Walking is a low-level form of exercise but has been shown to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety and enhance cognitive function.
Walking in nature provides even more benefits for mental health. Scientists are not quite sure why, but simply immersing yourself in nature has been shown to have “healing qualities.”
How Do Nature Walks Help With Depression?
Social isolation increases the risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Recent research suggests that a simple cure is to go on nature walks with family and friends.
Humans like other animals have an innate connection with the natural world. As a matter of fact, Mother Nature’s ability to enhance mood and restore the body’s energy levels has prompted doctors in the UK to prescribe nature walks to patients suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, stress and various mental health issues.
Combining exercise with nature has a double impact. Navigating challenging terrains such as hills and uneven ground will cause your diaphragm to work harder. Exercise means breathing deeper and bringing more air into your lungs which are then dispersed throughout the body.
The brain is a beneficiary of increased oxygen levels. When the brain receives more oxygen, we have more capacity for thinking clearly and reasoning. These are attributes that can help to serve people with depression.
Exercise also releases feel-good neurochemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. These naturally produced chemicals play a central role in happiness and satisfaction.
If you live in the city, a safe place to go for a family walk in the local park. It may not be the most exciting place to visit so you might want to think about taking a bat and ball, soccer ball or frisbee.
For those of you who can get to the countryside, forests, mountains and valleys, nature walks provide more variety. You can even make these outings more exciting for kids by playing games and making the trip educational and interesting.
For example, nature apps enable you to identify trees, plants, seeds and animals. All you need to do is point your phone at an object in nature and the app will give you some interesting information. Build this in with nature’s treasure hunt and the entire family will be entertained for hours.
Incentives may be the leverage that inspires a depressed teenager to concede to your requests. Perhaps you can stop by for ice cream, pancakes or Nando’s on the way back.
For more ideas about how to entertain kids on a nature walk check out this article. And don’t forget to download the Sweatcoin app and cash in your steps for perks.